I started reading psychology books when I was fourteen. I did this initially because my Dad, a social worker, gave me books like Transactional Analysis and Rational Emotive Therapy, and then continued because I thought this knowledge might help me figure out how to become more popular in high school (I don’t need to tell you how that turned out). I am not a natural “feeler” so my understanding of human behavior and the art of communication includes all of the small details a “natural” might miss.
Dad wouldn’t let me study psychology (no money in it) so I got a degree in Marketing from Louisiana State University (the psychology of persuasion). I moved to Australia (long story) during my twenties and early thirties first working in export with Ericsson, then on the Ford account at J. Walter Thompson. Blindly encountering the differences in between America and Australia, then Japan, Philippines, Europe, Hong Kong, I bumped, crashed, and eventually learned to surfed the waves of cultural differences. I learned that meaning is arbitrary – what is important to one culture may or may not be important to another. Eventually I learned that:
Story is the DNA of all meaning – nothing is important but for the story you tell yourself about it.
Knowing “story is the DNA” and using story as a tool are two different things. My Masters in Adult Ed. and Psychology from NC State in 1994 helps me design training that sticks and tools that we use rather than tools we know we “should use.” I still study psychology plus dip into any field that is relevant… behavior economics, social psychology, neuroscience and others.
Story always improves communication. I think that is why my book The Story Factor was listed as One of the 100 Best Business Books Ever Written. (I wrote Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins, so anyone can learn the methods I used to teach storytelling without hiring a me. It’s designed to be a DIY workbook and/or a textbook for a class.workbook anyone can use as a text book or on your own.
Before focusing on stories, I wrote about micro-behaviors people use to keep others out. (Still had a chip on my shoulder about high school, I guesss…) My first book, Territorial Games: Understanding and Ending Turf Wars discusses a powerful model/tool to prompt self examination without raising defenses. I like inventing tools. I looked at groups who were stuck, or as we phrase it in the south: “on their last nerve.” Either no one wanted to break the silence or no one would shut up. As a result of that, In I developed a process to prompt individuals to self-regulate so everyone can have a say and the group can move on.. This process is documented in A Safe Place for Dangerous Truths: Overcoming Fear and Distrust at Work. you can find my process to prompt individuals to self-regulate so everyone can have a say and the group can move on.
So far, I’ve written four books, some translated into ten languages. I can’t believe I have over thirty years of study and experience. But I do, and it’s a bountiful harvest when I can help my clients help design tools and training that improve the flow of stories. I love what I do.
“Once upon a time, story was banished from business. Then Annette Simmons came along to show us the error of our ways. This book is a smart, practical guide to tapping the power of narrative to improve your business and your life.”
– Daniel H. Pink, Author, A WHOLE NEW MIND
“It’s not as hard as you think! Annette Simmons lays out the storytelling agenda in clear, simple steps. You can (and you must) tell a story if you expect to succeed as a marketer. This book ought to help.”
-Seth Godin, Author, All Marketers Are Liars
“Okay, on three, everyone take two steps to the right.”
“If they can’t tell us apart, no one gets in trouble.” If you’re afraid to stand alone, you’ll never stand out. A cohesive team can move quickly, but a scared team isn’t going anywhere fast.
“Concrete wall.. Dam.”
Ahhh, the frustration of working in large organizations. If you don’t have a sense of humor you’re miserable and chances are you just make everyone else miserable.
“What do you mean I’m not approachable? I AM smiling.”
Your face tells employees a story. They wonder do I tell the truth? Or do I let some other sucker do it…later?
“Have I ever told you the one about the time I grew back from just one arm?”
There are some stories that get old. Yes, they were amazing the first time we heard them. Fifteen years later, not so much.
“Personal space? What do you mean I’m in your personal space?”
Revisiting the original vision story can soothe petty frustrations brought on my late hours, too much caffeine and purported refrigerator thefts.
“So I know I’m the new guy, but I have some really great ideas. Seriously, they are great ideas!”
Enthusiasm is often viewed as naivete’. Slow down! Tell a story that builds your credibility. Let your ideas reveal themselves to your listeners.
“What I could teach you, my dear. Come closer and sit awhile.”
Wasps match some human behaviors: dominance, deceipt, and opportunism. All queens start alone, and manage the hive as a hierarchy. Everyone has a story, don’t be afraid to ask.
“Call in the sharks. That new fish is getting on my nerves.”
People (and fish apparently) will “kill the messenger.” Wrap the truth in story and avoid the sharks.
Most. Boring. Powerpoint. Ever.
No one will ever complain if you replace a powerpoint slide with a good story.
“Here are the chocolate candy samples. Maybe a lighter brown?”
Not flattering, but we remember “ick” details. Disgust is one of the original emotions. Just don’t overdo it.
“When they talked about transferring us I really expected we’d have a desk and everything.”
If you want to improve morale it takes more than telling a new story. The story needs to be true.
“HQ promoted me to be team leader. Correct me if I’m wrong…but do you see a team here?”
Before you get mad, consider explaining your frustration with a story to put your listener in your chair and see what you see.
Please just look at the new budget. Pretty please?
Some stories last a day. If you asked for too much money, you could plaster this little guy’s face all over the office. Do your own campaign on frugality. Wear old clothes. Tell a story.
“Fine. I’ll go to your two day retreat. But I’m not hugging anybody!”
Story feels too touchy-feely for some. Don’t force it. They might cry and get snot on your shoulder.
You want me to what? I don’t know any stories!
Most everyone says this when you ask them to tell a story. Keep prompting, what happened when…? Last big crisis…?
“I’ve heard it all before, you little monkey. Try again.”
New. Original. Unique. Products? Yes. Human needs? Nope. You can still use old stories to understand human needs.
“We didn’t have any problems until you arrived. A little sand in our faces, but no problems.”
Big stories rewrite reality. Welcome fear, it means people care.
WILL YOU PLEASE SHUT UP?
Keep yelling…or ask to hear the story behind that constant suggestion? Listen it out of them and they will see the error in their thinking or you learn something.
“Hey, you can implement any policy you like….it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”
There are ten territorial games people can play to block implementation. All are driven by the story they tell themselves.
“I’m your new boss. Allow me to demonstrate the parade rest I expect when I enter the room.”
Military style management can alienate staff and kill creativity. Obedience is the lowest form of cooperation.
“One more bite and we won’t ask again….promise”
Some people are never happy no matter how much you give them. The trick is to teach them to fly and find answers by themselves.
“Tony, give up already. If they really wanted us to fly…they would have given us wings that work.”
Doing more with less makes sense as long as you give staff the tools they need. Give your staff the tools of self awareness, storytelling, and dialogue.
“Having a positive attitude won’t make you more successful…but it will irritate your enemies enough to make it worthwhile.”
Sometimes the most valuable thing a group can do is lighten up a little. Creativity is more accessible when people are relaxed and having fun.
“Statistics say one in every four people suffer from mental illness. Look around. If the three people closest to you seem okay, it’s you.”
Sometimes a work group needs some good ol’ fashioned therapy. Telling the truth, hearing the truth, venting emotion. Afterwards everyone is exhausted, incredibly relieved that it’s over, and ready to get back to work.
“The entire team had our hair done just like the boss’s. It’s your turn.”
There is more than one right way to accomplish goals. Diversity isn’t just driven from the top down. All staff play a part in rewarding diversity.